The state of California is positioning itself to lead the fight against President-elect Donald Trump’s potential rollback of climate change policy. With Governor Jerry Brown leading the charge, voices across the state have signaled a willingness to fight to preserve Obama’s climate change legacy on California’s own terms.
Leadership on climate change from the Pacific state is likely to amount to more than symbolic resistance. Earlier this year, the state surpassed France to become the world’s sixth largest economy, with a gross domestic product of about 2.5 trillion dollars. The New York Times even went as far as to say that “Foreign governments concerned about climate change may soon be spending more time dealing with Sacramento than Washington.” Brown has said that California will work directly with other nations to expand what is already the most ambitious set of climate change policies in the nation.
He said, in an interview:
“California can make a significant contribution to advancing the cause of dealing with climate change, irrespective of what goes on in Washington. I wouldn’t underestimate California’s resolve if everything moves in this extreme climate denial direction. Yes, we will take action.”
For 5 decades, California has taken the lead on environmental issues, since it began setting emissions standards for appliances and vehicles in the 1960s. Governor Jerry Brown himself has been an advocate for environmental causes since his first term as governor there in the 1970s. That legacy continues today, with Governor Brown leading the international Under 2 MOU initiative, with the support of state, local, and regional jurisdictions in 33 countries – an ambitious program to limit annual carbon emissions to less than 2 metric tons per capita by 2050. For California itself, legislators have set a mandate to reduce emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.
However, the Trump administration will have tools at their disposal to undermine the state’s aggressive climate policies. Hal Harvey, president of San Francisco research group Energy Innovation, said:
“They could basically stop enforcement of the Clean Air Act and CO2 emissions. That would affect California because it would constrain markets. It would make them fight political and legal battles rather than scientific and technological ones.”
California’s policies have also come under fire from business leaders who say these stringent policies will put the state at a competitive disadvantage, especially if Republicans manage to roll back regulations elsewhere in the country.
However, support for such policies goes much deeper than just Democratic policymakers. The legislation to roll back emissions enjoyed support from 69 percent of Californians polled in a July survey. Clean air and energy initiatives have helped to fuel California’s robust economy in recent years, and an aggressive roll back of these policies could put that success, and the jobs that have come with it, at risk.
Brown, 78, is approaching the end of his term in 2018, and likely the end of his career in public office. The liberal governor is taking an increasingly defiant tone on these matters. In a recent speech to the American Geophysical Union, he said:
“We’ve got the lawyers and we’ve got the scientists and are ready to fight. We’re ready to win.”